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Spring on the Upper Texas Coast
From Bryan's Field Notes

April 19, 2009

Although Hurricane Ike leveled High Island last fall, what's left remains a birdwatcher's dream. I arrived Thursday afternoon to find Summer and Scarlet Tanagers, Baltimore and Orchard Orioles, Rose-breasted Grosbeaks and Indigo Buntings, pouring from the sky. My first bird on the trail was an exhausted Scarlet Tanager flopping around at my feet. Many of the birds here had crossed the Gulf of Mexico from the Yucatan Peninsula and the adjacent Mexican coast, taking off the night before and flying about 18 hours before making landfall (at my feet).

Soon after the tanager, I was preoccupied with a flock of a dozen Indigo Buntings in a shrub nearby. Saturday, April 19, was incredible. The place was lousy with Hooded Warblers and Kentucky Warblers. I saw roughly 30 of the former and 20 of the latter. Worm-eating Warbler, Prothonotary Warbler, Cerulean Warbler, Golden-winged Warbler, Blue-winged Warbler -- they were all easy today. (My Swainson's and Yellow-throated warblers came earlier in the trip.) Then, after my fill of the classic southerners, I'd get a blast of orange from an eye-level Blackburnian Warbler; or the sun would rise when a "drake" Magnolia Warbler turned my way. This is paradise.

April 20, 2009

Superlatives won't describe Sunday, one of the finest days birding of my life. It began at dawn in a huge Spartina marsh on a walk to find Yellow Rail (six of them), "Kling" Rail, Virginia Rail and Sora. Marsh Wrens and Sedge Wrens rattled nearby as we slogged through the marsh. With them were Seaside Sparrows and Nelson's Sharp-tailed Sparrows (the species I was watching near here 27 years ago when Roger Tory Peterson walked up to join us for a bit of birding).

I left the marsh at 10am and made my way to the famed Bolivar Flats near Galveston, where I witnessed Sunday's First Most Amazing Sight in Three Decades of Birding: roughly 6,000 American Avocets, most of which were sent into flight by some unknown event (couldn't find the falcon). It was an ornigasm.

I shall not list the abundance of other great shorebirds so that I can promptly report on the day's Second Most Amazing Sight in Three Decades of Birding. This occurred at Boyscout Woods, where those songbirds crossing the Gulf of Mexico often make an afternoon landfall. I entered a small opening to find at least 70 Indigo Buntings, most of them males, sitting in waist-high grass (I most certainly under-counted them). With them were (at least) three male Painted Buntings. But a field sprinkled in cobolt-blue flames was honestly beyond belief. I had my high-powered lens so could not photograph all of them, but at one point 10 males jumped up into a tree (above). Now multiply that by seven times for the full effect.

Next, I was back in the woods for the usual dose of Cerulean, Hooded and Kentucky warblers (among many other songbirds, including nice looks at Yellow-breasted Chat). Next, I spent a pleasant evening watching waders, particularly Roseate Spoonbills, come in to a roost (see below). It included a Swallow-tailed Kite flyby. I ended the day (or so I thought) at 7:30pm for 12.5 hours of birding (I never really stopped for lunch). But while driving out of High Island, a kettle of 60 Mississippi Kites (right), hovering low over Boyscout Woods, interrupted my thoughts of a supper of (honest) grilled alligator. I suspect the kites will roost there for the night. So I'll try to get photos when they lift off Monday morning, my last day of birding in Texas.

I'm living on cheese, bread, beer, mangoes and birds -- a perfect life.

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© Vermont Bird Tours 2009
All images © Bryan Pfeiffer / Wings Photography